BLAME CANADA PART II: UNIFICATION & POLITICS

Welcome to the second of three installments of my Canadian improvisational music case study. I have gotten a lot of positive response from the first article from both Canadians and Americans, showing that not only is there interest in the music from all over the continent, but also people are interested to hear about new bands and check out new tunes and experiences along the way. This issue will be slightly longer than the first installment, primarily because I have more time to write it, and secondly because I have more information to pass on and even more music to cover.

In the first piece, I tried to cover the gamut from coast to coast, covering bands from Halifax, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Calgary, Alberta and Montreal. For the band section of this installment, the format will be much of the same, as Eastern, Western and Central Canada will be focused on, along with a few web sites that unite all three scenes.

Once again, thank you for your interest in this piece and the budding Canadian music scene that is showcases. Anyways, enough with the introduction; let us get to the music.

ISSUE II: UNIFICATION, POLITICS, AND A LITTLE HIPPIE TRANCE

I am going to start at the westernmost point of the country to highlight a band from Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, a band that embodies the spirit of the West Coast and its ability to throw a great party.

The Wassabi Collective


The Wassabi Collective
To describe this western Canadian quartet in the simplest way, The Wassabi Collective are a party. The four-piece electro-world beat outfit are masters at making fans smile by providing driving, eclectic, and extremely inviting music. Hailing from Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island, The Wassabi Collective meld together indigenous, rock-infused world beat with percussive heavy funk and intense hippie trance that turns any bar instantaneously into an all-out dance party. Having already toured across the country twice, headlining the Evolve Music, Arts and Awareness Festival, as well as the landmark Come Together Music Festival along the way, the band has created a vibe that is all their own, one that is exciting, collective, and incredibly contagious.

In the last year, the band has trimmed down from a sextet to a quartet. Still, the music's intensity has exponentially exploded, due to the band tightening up and growing together as musicians. Relying even more on the driving beats of lead vocalist and percussionist Melissa Meretsky since the member changes, the band still focuses their energy on rhythm, creating an ever-evolving backbeat on stage that is consistently and tastefully accentuated by either Meretsky or drummer Stephen. Along with that, bassist Scott Milne keeps the music grounded while adding a funky touch to guitarist and effects wizard Brent Hongisto's melodic lines. Even though their eclecticism has shrunk slightly with the lineup change, their sheer liveliness, positive vibe, and intense world beat fusion electro trance has grown alongside their longer schedule, always leaving fans drenched to the bone with sweat at the end of the evening.

With the dedication of the quartet to expanding minds and establishing relationships while keeping everyone within earshot glued to the dance floor, The Wassabi Collective have a bright future, because everybody loves to dance. This summer should see the band travel back across the country from British Columbia to hit up festivals and clubs across Canada, as their winter has been spent as home, with sporadic touring and recording in Victoria. For more info, visit www.wasabi.net.

I hope you have enjoyed our visit to beautiful Vancouver Island. Now let us shift our focus to the other side of the country...

Grand Theft Bus


Grand Theft Bus by Tim Pointer
Hailing from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Grand Theft Bus are quite possibly Canada's most exciting improvisational act on the scene today. Born out of older East Coast bands like the fabled P.F. Station, brothers Tim (guitar) and Graeme Walker (bass), along with guitarist Dennis Goodwin and drummer Bob Deveau joined forces in the fall of 2000. Named after a brilliant crook who was featured in a car chase TV show for stealing a bus, Grand Theft Bus started playing towards the end of 2000 and people immediately started listening.

By growing alongside the mushrooming popularity of the East Coast improvisational music scene, much like a band I wrote about in the first piece called The Jimmy Swift Band, Grand Theft Bus have grown to become superstars on their home turf, selling out theatres, high school auditoriums, and clubs on a weekly basis.

Two distinct aspects of the band that have contributed to their increasing popularity in the past few years are their jamming style and sheer musical accessibility. First, instead of approaching improvisation by providing a base tune and having a member solo over the melody and rhythm, Grand Theft Bus see jamming as a collective activity, relying less on soloing and more on building the jam together as a quartet, using more patience than fire to stretch songs out. The result is consistently climactic, while interesting and danceable all at once. Secondly, the band's songwriting ability makes them accessible to any music fan with an open mind. The band relies just as much on tight, four-minute pop songs or melodically driving new-wave rock as they do their jazz infused, electro improvisations, a style which brings in all music fans from the jazz head to the Aphex Twin fan. Along with that, the band rarely plays covers, instead relying on their extensive library of original tunes. By expanding their own compositions and building on the tunes nightly, the band keeps their fan base interested, whether they bust out the four-minute radio friendly "Never Can Tell" or the fan favourite jam stalwart "Street Sleeper." In addition, their fantastic debut album Birth Of Confusion showcases their style beautifully, highlighting their original eclecticism and group dynamics in a seventy minute, well-produced studio effort.

The spring will see the band back in the studio, recording once again with famed Canadian producer Laurence Currie on their follow-up to Birth of Confusion, which will be followed by extensive North American touring. Whether you are north or south of the border, take notice of these guys, and make sure to reserve a seat on the bus.

Let us head back to the West Coast, making a quick pit stop in Montreal before heading over to Canmore, Alberta, a city made famous by a Royal Canadian Air Farce sketch, and three French guys bent on getting you moving.

Blue Quarter


The Chapman Stick
Even though they met in Montreal, Blue Quarter's history is rooted in Canmore, Alberta, the sleepy mountain town where the trio relocated and has called home for two years now. Blue Quarter are one of the most interesting bands on the scene, both visually and musically. Possibly the only Canadian band led by a Chapman Stick, Blue Quarter create sonically pleasing musical soundscapes, using the sheer capabilities and its extensive melodic range of the "Stick" with one of the best rhythm sections touring the country today.

The band classifies themselves as an electro-lounge drum 'n' bass trio, but I believe that categorization pigeonholes their style into a genre that their music far surpasses. Harboring heavily on rock and calypso rhythms, Blue Quarter take electronic music to new heights, adding a new dimension to the ever-evolving genre of hippie trance. By capitalizing on the vast sounds that can be made by the Stick, which looks like the bastard child of an electronic stand-up bass and an electric guitar, the band is not only a feast for the mind, but a experience for the eyes as well.

Having toured across the country four times, garnering larger attendances, more press, and noticeably increasing buzz along the way, Blue Quarter are on their way up. Not only does their music keep your mind and feet moving, but take it from me, watching the Stick is extremely entertaining. Watch for this energetic young trio to cross the country yet again in the summer, followed by American touring and possibly more recording to follow-up on their decent debut Electro Lounge. Get your Stick fix at www.bluequarter.com, and make sure you see this band in person, because you cannot truly appreciate the beauty of Blue Quarter without watching the trio tear it up on stage.

Now I am going to turn the tables around and visit my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario to check out one of Canada's most influential and verbally powerful hip-hop acts, the extremely funky and highly political Warsawpack.

Warsawpack


Warsawpack Show Poser
Even though we do not have George Bush, unbridled globalization through theological imperialism, crumbling inner cities, and a government bent on Americana homogenization, Canadian governmental and social policies are not perfect, and one of the best acts at raising awareness towards these social injustices are Hamilton's own Warsawpack. Their website's homepage is designed around a map of the world's ballistic missile capabilities, and once clicked on that, the website addresses the War on Terror, Canada's role, and its implications.

Minus all the politics, this band makes damn fine music as well. Using their words as weapons, Warsawpack blend together hip-hop, jazz, funk, and rock to create a message that has been igniting the missiles of the Canadian music industry since 1999. Having already been showcased on Canadian Music Week and North by Northwest, as well as hundreds of headlining dates, the message is weeding through the mainstream, attacking the ears of music listeners across the country.

With just one listen to the band's signature political anthem "Stocks and Bombs," the band's message will be front and centre, but make sure to take notice to the interesting musicianship happening behind the political image, featuring funky guitar lines, explosive horn melodies and one of the better hip-hop rhythm sections in Canada today. If you like Spearhead, you will love Warsawpack. If you hate Bush, you will love Warsawpack. Heck, if you care at all about the state of the world and appreciate fantastic musicianship alongside the positive messages, you will love Warsawpack. With extensive Canadian touring throughout the late winter and early spring, Warsawpack will probably be hitting your hometown, because there is a lot to talk about in the world today. Get the straight facts at www.warsawpack.com.

For the final band in this installment, I have decided to lighten things up a little, focusing on one of the most upbeat and positive bands in Ontario, female folk rockers Erin Smith Band.

Erin Smith Band


Erin Smith Band by K. Campbell
One consistent aspect about an Erin Smith Band show is that it never disappoints. Led by the powerful and demanding vocals and acoustic guitar of Toronto's own Erin Smith, the funky five-string bass lines of her brother Liam Smith, as well as saxophonist John MacLean and drummer Mike Chadwick, the acoustic folk-rock quartet has created music that resonates with anyone looking for a positive message, and an excuse to dance. With three fantastic recordings to date and another one on the way, Erin and company have created a community around their music that is extremely supportive, packing clubs no matter where the band is playing.

Erin has one of the best voices in Canada, and one of the funkiest back-up bands to accentuate it. Even though they rarely stretch songs out further than five to seven minutes, the improvisational community, as well as the Canadian folk music community has taken a shine to the Erin Smith Band, reveling in the complexity of their tight folky pop, the noticeably powerful group dynamics, and sheer power of Smith's vocal range. Smith's voice has the clout of Ani DiFranco's, but Smith writes about lighter, airier topics, like doing dishes or her cat, for example.

The band has only played a few shows throughout the winter, as they have been busy at work recording their fourth studio release, as well as participating in side projects along the way. Erin heads up the Ladybird Sideshow, an all-female singer-songwriter touring troupe that showcases female artists across Canada while Liam and John started Mr. Something Something, a six piece Afro-funk band, and are currently recording with them. This summer will see the band hit up festivals, as well as return to their old touring schedule, which sees them consistently playing across Ontario, Quebec and parts beyond. For more info, visit www.erinsmithband.com and tell her I say hello.

Well, the band section of this piece is over, and I hope you take the time to check out The Wassabi Collective, Grand Theft Bus, Blue Quarter, Warsawpack, and the Erin Smith Band, and will hopefully enjoy their music as much as I do. Now, I am going to try something new and insert a section that was passed over in the first installment, one that focuses on online communities.

The Websites

Much like JamBase is a source of information and community building in the United States, the Canadian scene has two websites that act as the meeting spot for the scene, uniting fans and facts through the keyboard from coast to coast. Both www.jambands.ca and www.jamhub.ca serve the same purpose, but they function in different ways. While JamBands.ca serves as the main message board for the scene, boasting over 1,200 members from across the country (and even a few Americans), JamHub.ca is a constantly updated news source, allowing anyone to submit news for publication, as well as host music and post relevant information. Each website has its own show calendar maintained by fans much like JamBase, although some cities get updated more than others. These two sites are integral members of the music community, facilitating the coming together of ideas, experiences, and music from across the country in a relaxed, mostly laid-back atmosphere that is just as addictive as it is informative.

I hope you have enjoyed this installment, as I have tried to focus on the bands that obviously deserve to be profiled, as well as looking into bands that one might not think about when looking into Canada's improvisational music scene. The third and unfortunately final installment will go live in the first or second week of April, and I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, so stay tuned. Look for me to cover Canada's hottest international export, as well as a funky little secret harboring in the mountains of British Columbia. Thanks again for reading and staying interested, and I will see you when the weather is a little more hospitable. Keep on dancing...

Shain Shapiro
JamBase | Canada
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[Published on: 3/2/04]

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